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I saw 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' four times on opening weekend. Here's what happened.
How do four difference audiences in four different theaters react to the death of King T'Challa? SYFY WIRE found out.
By Ariadne Night
There was an idea: what if instead of limiting myself to one Black Panther: Wakanda Forever screening during the opening weekend, I went to all of them? Four different theaters, with four different groups, on four different days. All to witness the impact of one of the most anticipated film releases of the year on an audience (myself included) who would no doubt be drowning in tears by the end.
When the first Black Panther came out, I had also been first in line; dressed to the nines in a van my college chartered to watch the premiere with a dozen or so of my classmates. The ride itself was maybe five minutes, yet somehow each of those minutes felt more excruciating than the last. We made jokes; took bets on who’d fall asleep; unaware of the fact that in a few short years, a pandemic would shutter theaters and transform the moviegoing experience. Unaware that time would make a home for Chadwick Boseman with our departed ancestors. Unaware that after this movie, no one would be the same.
So much had changed since the first Black Panther. What would seeing the sequel be like, not just once but four times?
**Spoilers ahead for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever**
Theater 1: Thursday, Nov. 10
It’s been four years since the first movie’s release, and a midnight Thursday preview serves as the vehicle for our return to Wakanda. I barely make it, having put too much faith in the walking times Google Maps showed and missing my train. I’m worried but, as Gucci Mane once said “miss one, next fifteen, one coming.” We make it in the nick of time and settle in our seats as the trailers are underway. It’s packed. As the trailer end, a man in front of me claps his hand and exclaims “let’s go!” They’re the last sounds anyone will make for the rest of the movie.
For almost three hours the theater is dead silent; so quiet I almost imagine I can hear everyone’s heartbeats. This is a funeral, and it’s clear from the tears streaming down the faces of my friends that we’re all grieving.
The movie is phenomenal, but for what it’s worth, an almost three-hour film starting at midnight perhaps wasn't the brightest idea, especially when you’ve been at work all day. I witness this first hand when a man somewhere in the theater starts SNORING — a crime so egregious I half consider reporting him to the feds.
The movie’s conclusion comes and as my friends exit a man purporting to be a “real comic fan” follows us into the elevator and begins an unsolicited lecture on the “accuracy” of Namor and his comic history. I don’t have the heart to let him know that not only have I read the comics, but I also hate the comic Namor. I draw the line when he says Tenoch Huerta’s performance falters because the actor isn’t buff enough. I can handle a lot, but I can’t fathom delusion. I mean, be for real, have we seen that man’s biceps?
Theater rating: 7/10
Theater 2: Friday, Nov. 11
Friday’s experience is overshadowed by a downpour. It’s raining hard and, even though I’d known that before leaving, I’m without an umbrella. I showed up by myself to the theater — the same theater where I went on my first-ever date — dripping wet and still exhausted from the night before. The theater itself, across the street from a K-12 school, is filled with preteens and families, including a tiny girl who couldn’t have been more than 3. It’s not lost on me that the first Black Panther was probably released before she was born, and that no doubt her parents had spent time showing her the movie relatively recently. It brings tears to my eyes. A woman in front of me is commenting on her ideal way to eat popcorn “less popcorn in the bag, extra butter, and a cup of butter on the side to pour in.” She would spend the entirety of the three-hour movie softly talking about the comic book history of the characters on screen to her vaguely interested boyfriend. It’s iconic.
Seated in the back row of a theater, however, I’m immediately turned off by the fact that the main auditorium for this blockbuster movie doesn't set its seats on risers! From all the way in the back, I’m heavily distracted by the fact that someone is getting up every ten minutes, but children have tiny bladders. That’s fine. The fully grown single people, including a man who inexplicably gets up from his seat in the front row, throws a half-full bag of popcorn into the garbage at the back of the auditorium, and then comes back with a new one, are a whole other story. I’m haunted by the implications. What was in that popcorn bag? And why did you wait until the death of Queen Ramonda to replace it? For what it’s worth, the younger crowd is livelier than the last. Laughing, dancing, crying. But the constantly moving, restless grown folk are so obnoxious I leave before the post-credit scene. And for the record: I F***ing love that post-credit scene.
Theater rating: 4/10
Theater 3: Saturday, Nov. 12
Saturday’s crowd is an afternoon matinee, a collection of twenty-somethings eager to fit in a movie before their afternoon shifts. A family is dressed in all white as is customary for funerals in several African traditions; the back of their hoodies bear a gold rendering of Boseman's face in the Black Panther mask. I tell them they look amazing, they already know. The group I’m with, mainly Black women, is more than excited, many of us dressed in white as well. I watch them closely as the movie plays, laughing as they gasp at the twists, and crying with them yet again at the sad parts. It’s cathartic.
In front of us, another woman is absolutely living for Riri Williams. Every line from the character elicits a laugh and a clap from the woman, until at point she proudly exclaims that Riri is “funny as hell.” I grunt in agreement behind her. Watching this movie for the third time, I’m astounded by its ability to still surprise me. I’m just as mesmerized as the first time, and noticing things I’d never seen before. At one point in the final act of the movie a tall, blonde-haired extra draws a gasp from a friend in the seat beside me. I can’t blame her: that woman is distractingly beautiful. So much so that I started making fictitious backstories for her character. She was a warrior and a spy and a telekinetic super soldier all at once. Kevin Feige should hire me. The movie ends and for the first time all weekend, the theater erupts in applause. It’s perfect.
Theater rating: 9/10
Theater 4: Sunday, Nov. 13
Sunday’s movie is at 9 a.m. — that’s 9 a.m. in the morning. I shuffle to the theater exhausted and meet my family in their seats. My 9-year-old brother holds up a fist and warns me not to fall asleep. He’s not threatening me, he’s promising to beat me up if I dare close my eyes for a moment. I take him seriously. Having seen the movie so much by this point, I’m able to people-watch. I see eyes lit up in the glow of the film behind masks; watch as heads bob to Ludwig Göransson’s score. A woman in front of me is so excited she puts her arms up and exclaims. It’s never unwarranted. Thankfully, no one sees me watching, of course, no doubt too busy figuring out who they’d meet to ensure Angela Bassett gets that much-deserved Oscar nomination.
Most closely though, I’m watching my family. My father had taken me to the first Iron Man movie over a decade ago, and we hadn’t missed a single one since. As my mother often repeated, “we’re a Marvel family.” The death of Queen Ramonda sends my 18-year-old sister into a tailspin. She grips her head and places it into her lap, softly remarking that she’s “so stressed out”. Yeah girl, me too.
At the movie's conclusion, I held my breath. Waiting for my family’s reaction to the movie's largest reveal: its post-credit scene. As Nakia walks towards Princess Shuri at the very end my sister leans forward in her seat. When they see the young boy beside her, they gasp. “I am prince T’challa, son of king T’challa.” Six words spoken by the cutest kid in the world, and my family is a wreck. They’re crying so hard they’re a second behind the thunderous applause that begins immediately. I smile.
Theater Experience: 10/10
Chadwick Boseman is no longer with us, but the impact of his legacy as an actor will forever live on in the hearts of the people whose lives he enriched. Strangers in dark movie theaters across the country, all connected by the idea that you can be more than what the world expects. In truth, part of this experiment for me was selfish. An urge to cling on to T’challa for just a moment longer; so tightly, I’d almost missed the larger point: that Boseman’s legacy is eternal. And, Wakanda is an ideal that stands tall. Forever.
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